Country Wine

When you hear the word 'wine,' what do you think of?  Something fancy, expensive?  Something imported from France, or California?  And it's definitely made from grapes, right?  How limited is our concept of wine!  In fact, wine is so much more than all that: wine is whatever you make it.  Making your own wine is easy, inexpensive, and a great way to preserve summer's abundance in whatever form you have it.  'Country wine' is the term for a wine made with any fruit other than grapes.  Berries are particularly well-suited for wine-making due to their vibrant colors and inherent sweetness, but great wine can be made with any combination of fruits, even flowers.

For a true wine-making story, from start to dry finish, read our blog post about making a tayberry wine.

The Basics: Country wine is made by fermenting sweetened fruit juice.  After steeping fruit or berries in water to release their flavors, yeast is added, which converts sugar to acids, alcohol, and carbon dioxide.  Sugar is usually added to feed the yeasts because fruits and berries don't contain as much natural sugar as grapes. 

Quick Reference (just the numbers if you already know what you're doing):

 Batch Size Fruit Sugar
1/2 gal. 2 lbs. 0.75 - 1 lb.
1 gal. 4 lbs. 1.5 - 2 lbs.
3 gal. 12 lbs. 4.5 - 6 lbs.
5 gal. 20 lbs. 7.5 - 10

 

Materials:

  • 2 Pots or food-grade plastic buckets large enough to hold fruit
  • Pot to boil water 
  • 1 packet wine yeast (available at homebrew supply stores) 
  • Sugar
  • Strainer
  • Cheesecloth or Muslin
  • Siphon Hose
  • Carboy, glass jug, or mason jar large enough for the batch you're making
  • reCap lid (if using mason jar)
  • Airlock with rubber stopper

Instructions:

  1. Remove stem and hulls from fruit.  Wash fruit by rinsing small batches in cool water and pouring off debris with excess water.  Place fruit in large pot or bucket.
  2.  Pour enough boiling water over the fruit just to cover it.  (For 1-gallon batch of wine using 4 lbs. of fruit, that's just under 1/2 gallon.)
  3. Cover bucket with clean towel and let cool to room temperature.
  4. When fruit/water mixture is cool, remove 1 cup water from bucket and sprinkle yeast over it.  Let it sit out until it gets foamy, indicating that the yeast is active.  (A single packet of commercial yeast can be used for 1 gallon as well as 5 gallon batches.  A large batch will take a bit longer than a small batch, due to the exponential growth rate of yeast populations.  For batches smaller than 1 gallon, half a packet will suffice.)
  5. Pour yeasty water back into bucket with fruit and stir well to distribute yeast evenly throughout.  Set aside for 2-3 days, stirring occasionally to oxygenate.  (Note, no sugar has been added yet; we're letting the yeast have a chance to feast first on the natural fruit sugars.)
  6. Combine sugar and an equal amount of water in a pot; heat and stir until sugar dissolves into a syrup.  (See question below.)  
  7. Let syrup cool to room temperature.  Pour cooled syrup into the fruit/water mixture and stir until completely mixed.  
  8. Re-cover with clean towel and leave to ferment at room temperature for 3 to 5 days.
  9. Strain fruit solids out of wine by pouring wine mixture into second bucket through strainer lined with cheesecloth or muslin.  Siphon wine into carboy or jug.  At this point, the amount of wine isn't equal to a full batch.
  10. Estimate how much more water you need to add to fill the carboy and pour that amount over fruit solids still in strainer to wash out ('sparge') any remaining fruit flavor.  Siphon the resulting liquid into the carboy until full to the neck. 
  11. Place rubber stopper and airlock into opening of carboy (or jug) and fill airlock with water.
  12. Place carboy in a cool, dark place and leave to ferment for 9 months or more.  Fermentation will gradually slow down, but it may be vigorous enough in the beginning to bubble up and leak around the airlock.  To prevent a mess, place a tray under the carboy to collect any overflow.  If it does happen, simply remove the airlock, clean it and the opening of the carboy with a clean cloth, and fill replace the airlock.
  13. Bottle your wine!  You can recycle commercial wine bottles if you have access to a corker (there are hand-held and larger floor models). 

Frequently Asked Questions:

How do I determine how much sugar to use?

The first consideration is the type of fruit you plan to use: how sweet or tart is it?  Naturally-occurring fruit sugar (fructose) is fermentable and contributes to the production of alcohol, as does the added sugar.  The amount of sugar added (plus the fruit sugar) will, therefore, determine how alcoholic your wine is... to a point.  

The other thing to consider is whether you want a sweet or dry wine. As the level of alcohol increases, the environment becomes inhospitable to the very yeasts that created the alcohol and they start to die off.  Any unfermented sugar that remains simply makes your wine taste sweet.  Using only as much sugar as will ferment before the yeasts die off results in a 'dry' wine.  

Can I make wine with honey instead of sugar?

Absolutely!  Any fermentable sugar--honey, sorghum, rice syrup, maple syrup, molasses--can be used to make wine.  However, alternative sweeteners such as these have unique and quite strong flavor profiles and will impart their own character to the wine, potentially overwhelming the fruit flavor you're really after.  Besides being neutral in flavor, plain sugar has the added benefit of being cheaper than the others by far.